Lost among last week’s election stories about blue waves, red tsunamis, new governors, and the chickens and roosters of Ransom was a statewide story that could have a trickling effect across the Illinois Valley community.
It was a referendum in suburban Forest Park, Ill. where 52 percent of voters said they no longer wanted video gambling machines in town.
Why is this vote in a community about an hour and a half away from the area important?
It is the first time in Illinois where a village that initially was in favor of video gaming reversed its position. Voters decided it wasn’t a good fit.
When Illinois’ video gaming program started in 2012, local communities had the opportunity to opt-out of the Video Gaming Act, meaning machines would not be allowed within municipal limits.
Not many local communities opted out at the time, with Grand Ridge, New Bedford and La Rose being the exceptions.
Video gaming has grown deep roots in the Illinois Valley over the past six years. There has been about $170 million played in La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties over that time period with about $8.54 million heading back to local municipalities. In a recent state report on wagering, La Salle County was listed as the No. 2 ranked county in the state for gaming machines per capita. Bureau ranked 13th out of 102 Illinois counties.
But not everyone likes these stats. Not everyone likes that gambling is so prevalent at so many bars, gas stations, truck stops and gaming parlors in the Illinois Valley. Some say it feeds addiction. Some say it is destroying the community.
Recently, there have been two local high-profile crimes that cited gambling addiction as a possible motive for crime. In the state’s case against Clifford Andersen in the Deborah Dewey murder trial, Andersen was portrayed as a man with many debts who could frequently be seen at La Salle’s Flying J truck stop playing the machines. In October, Marshall Martyn, an Ottawa man accused of stealing upwards of $1.8 million from his La Salle employer, said the theft came to support his gambling habit. He did not specify that the gambling was done on the state regulated machines.
However, there is no doubt the machines are a revenue generator. It’s not just the state and local governments making money off of video gaming, but local businesses as well. But is it all worth it if it?
That’s the question that residents of Forest Park answered on Election Day. Gaming was no longer welcome in the community.
It’s a question that other communities in the Illinois Valley can ponder moving forward as well. If you don’t want more slot machines moving into the community you can ask your local city council or village board to put the referendum on the ballot and let the voters decide.
We’ve seen it happen once. It can happen again.